Easter


The story is told of a young strong man pulling a cart filled with cloths. As he travels, he calls out, “Rags! Rags! New rags for old!” On his journey he encounters a number of people with a variety of burdens: a young woman grieving the loss of a child, an old man bent and broken with the weight of the world on his shoulders, a one-armed man unable to find work. At each meeting, the young man trades one of his fresh linen cloths with the tired and worn rags the people are using to dry their own eyes. With each exchange, the Ragman seems to take on the burden or handicap of the people. At the end of the day, the watcher who tells the story realizes that the Ragman is none other than the Christ, exchanging new lives for old. (“The Ragman” in Easter Stories, compiled by Miriam LeBlanc)

And that is Easter—Christ exchanging new lives for old. He died on a cross, taking the place of every sinner; taking on His sinless shoulders the sin of every person, and so conquered sin. Then, on the third day, He rose again and so conquered death. In this sacrificial and merciful act He exchanged His perfect life for my imperfect one, He traded my death for His life.

This is the message of Easter available for anyone who believes. Have you received the exchange today? Listen, He calls to you, “Rags! Rags! New rags for old! New lives for old!”

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away, and look, new things have come.  — 2 Corinthians 5:17

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Passion Week, Holy Week, or whatever you choose to designate this week, today focuses on the beginning of a most sacred time. Some might qualify that statement with the phrase “for Christians.” However, regardless of what one might believe the week that begins with Palm Sunday and traverses through a Passover celebration from two thousand years ago—one that is marked with jealousy, accusation, tragedy, and triumph—is holy to all of mankind.

As we of the Christian faith begin this week with reminiscent cries of that first Palm Sunday, singing, shouting, or crying out, “Hosanna! Hosanna in the Highest! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!” we are proclaiming the news that Jesus has come to conquer sin for all of mankind—for those who accept and for those who do not. This reminds us all that the miracle of Holy Week is the offer of salvation and life

And so, my plea goes out to everyone, regardless of what religious background you have. If you have not chosen to partake of salvation, choose this Holy season. Consider the message of the Christ: The God of all creation made mankind in His own image for the purpose of relationship with Him. Of his own choice, mankind broke that relationship through disobedience earning eternal death. In answer to this travesty, Jesus (the Son of God) was born on earth, lived a sinless life, and died in the place of all mankind, so that anyone who places their trust on Him will live. Make this Holy Week yours today!

Anyone who believes in Him is not condemned, but anyone who does not believe is already condemned, because he has not believed in the name of the One and Only Son of God.  — Jesus, John 3:18

Late Friday. All day Saturday. Early Sunday. Three days. That time between the last one to see Jesus and the first one to see Jesus. Speculation runs strong about what went on from the time Jesus cried, “It is finished!” and surrendered His earthly body to death and that moment when Mary Magdalene mistook Him for the gardener.

Might I suggest that He was waiting. Waiting can be a holy thing. Why’d He have to wait to prove that He was in control even over death? Partly because of prophecy. In order for Him to fulfill even the last of the prophecies that prove Jesus was and is Messiah, He waited silently for those three days. The prophecy—especially His personal prophecy about Himself—proclaimed that Messiah would be put to death and return to life on the third day. God knows God’s plans. As a matter of form, God knows His plans better than you or I, and we can only be informed insofar as He opens those plans up to us. And in order that all might be able to know that Jesus was and is who He said He was and is and shall be, the plan called for three days.

Perhaps you are in a waiting time. It’s okay to wait on the Lord, but as we wait on Him, let us consider His word and what it is we wait on—the will and plan of God.

Unlike the times we find ourselves in a holding pattern because our plane can’t land, waiting in the presence of God is time well spent.

“For He was teaching His disciples and telling them, ‘The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into the hands of me. They will kill Him, and after He is killed, He will rise three days later.’  — Mark 9:31

One of my favorite songs of faith makes this statement:

The old rugged cross made the difference,/In a life bound for heartache and defeat.    I will praise Him forever and ever,/For the cross made the difference for me.–Bill & Gloria Gaither

As we continue to draw closer to Resurrection Day, It is important to take a closer look at the cross. There Jesus surrendered Himself to the cruel machinations of mankind. There Jesus paid the death penalty that mankind earned though the active disobedience known as sin. The One righteous one, replaced the multitude of unrighteous so that the dead could come to life. There, on the cross, my sin and your sin was obliterated for all of eternity.

What makes the cross so special is not the myriad intricate designs that make it beautiful to hang on the wall or wear as jewelry. It is neither the sentimental journey that we take time and again because understanding His sacrifice on our behalf makes us nostalgic. No, what makes the cross special is that in the middle of cruelty and harsh reality God reached down to cradle His creation back to Himself in a selfless, gracious, and merciful plan—one that only God could think up. One that only God could accomplish.

Thank you, Jesus, for the cross.

“No one has greater love than this: to lay down his life for his friends  —Jesus, John 15:13

Sometimes I think that we lose sight of what traditions are about. In the classic musical “Fiddler on the Roof,” Tavia—the patriarch of the family of Russian Jews that is the center of the story—argues against all of the new-fangled ideas that are thrown at him by, of all people, his family. He has one, single, solitary argument: “Tradition!” Without fail, he sees his heartfelt traditions crumble before progress until the family is finally forced into exile because of the political progress being made around his faith-filled traditions.

In the church we have a number of traditions and practices that are in danger of losing so much meaning that they will be crowded out by progress. One such tradition (which could do with a little life breathed in) is Lent. Growing up in the Baptist tradition that I did, we had lost our grip on the celebration of the season leading up to Resurrection Sunday. The main reason, as far as I can tell, is that Lent is too closely associated with a more ecumenical and less evangelical side of the Christian faith (i.e. Catholicism, Lutheranism, etc.)

Part of the crumbling of the traditional view is the boiling down of Lent to “giving up something (usually a bad habit or lesser indulgence that we probably wouldn’t miss anyway)” for the season when the purpose of Lent is to prepare the Christ-follower to be of worshipful mind when he arrives at the holy week of Easter. This year let us (yes, even those of us who are Baptist) prepare our hearts and minds to fall before the feet of the Savior as we celebrate His death, burial, resurrection and ascension.

“Jesus sent Peter and John, saying, ‘Go and prepare the Passover meal for us, so we can eat it.’  —Luke 22:8

The Resurrection is difficult to fathom. People just don’t die and come back to life—especially on the third day. There are books that convince us that people who are declared dead for a few minutes (up to 90 minutes if you read one book about Heaven and life after death and resuscitation-type miracles), but on the third day? To accept that takes real faith.

Once our faith has developed to the point of accepting Jesus’ Resurrection (which is real, by the way), then we have to deal with the purpose of the Easter story. You see, the Resurrection was not just a parlor trick to wow the masses. Jesus was not a first-century David Copperfield trying to do a trick that was just too good to be true. The purpose of the Resurrection is to provide the foundation for a future. The events of Easter weekend all have deepest significance.

Jesus died on a cross to provide the perfect sacrifice for the unforgivable. We could not pay dearly enough to restore a relationship with God that was broken by the sinfulness of mankind. Jesus, having lived a sinless life in our sin-filled world, made the only payment possible.

Jesus was buried, and His disciples fell into discouragement because the hope they had placed in Him seemed to be gone with Him. That silent second day—the Sabbath of the week—forced early disciples to reflect on what it was—who it was—that they had followed and believed. This kind of reflection makes or breaks our faith. For those early disciples, their faith triumphed.

On the first Resurrection Day, Jesus conquered death as a promise of a future for those who believe. It is this foundational promise on which the church builds and operates even into the twenty-first century. Hard to believe? Yes. Imperative to believe? Absolutely. Christ is risen—for you, for me, for all who did believe, for all who do believe, and for all who will ever believe. He is risen indeed!

“’Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen.”  — an Angel, Luke 24:5b-6a

Thursday: preparations are made for the feast. And not just any feast, but the most solemn, sacred feast of the entire year. This is the commemoration of the awesome night that God sent the Death Angel throughout all of Egypt taking the lives of the first-born—old, young, highborn and low, even the livestock was not spared this night. But the Israelites? They were kept safe by the sign of the blood, and this is the feast the disciples celebrate tonight: Passover! Afterward, they adjourn to a quiet place for meditation, and then the mobs come.

Friday: After a night filled with mock justice and betrayal, sentence is carried out: Crucifixion. It is the most horrible, legalized capital punishment known in the history of man. And the Innocent of all innocents is hung to die. With His death, all men can be set free—just as the Passover set the Israelites of old free. All that must be done is to apply the Blood of the Lamb to the doors of one’s life—accept it willingly and apply it liberally. Even so, darkness covers the Earth. But wait for it . . .

Sunday: Hallelujah! He is risen! He is not here! Jesus Christ, having conquered sin, now conquers death. Now all we have is to tell this good news while we wait for His Return.

He is not here: for he is risen, as he said. Come, see the place where the Lord lay. —an angel (Matthew 28:6)

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